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MLS needs a re-think on enforcing preseason discipline

Feb 24, 2013, 2:54 PM EST

Philadelphia Union v DC United - Disney Pro Soccer Classic Getty Images

The matches are about to be real, and so will be the suspensions for those who misbehave.

Until now, Major League Soccer players have been operating in a gray area. It may be time to ask whether they should be?

The pressure point here will be Saturday’s not-so-friendly preseason tournament contest between D.C. United and East Coast rival Philadelphia – a contest that got fairly nasty.

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff was there to report on the 59th minute incident, when United captain Dwayne De Rosario was ejected for allegedly head-butting his former teammate, Danny Cruz.

The preseason friendlies get this way too often. It’s easy to blame the referees for failing to take control, but these are tough situations for the men in the middle.

The players aren’t ignorant; they understand that actual jeopardy is almost non-existent. Yellow card? So what, they don’t accumulate and mean nothing for the player once the real games begin. (First kick is Saturday, the schedule is here.)

Red card? The stakes are minimal since players and coaches don’t really care about results. Leaving your team a man down, if we’re honest, is really no biggie in the big picture.

Plus, there’s no carry-over in terms of missing the next match. In fact, in plenty of cases referees will simply ask the player to leave or ask a manager to remove them from the field rather than issuing a red card per se. As these contests are all about getting teams tuned up for the regular season, and generally about nothing else, coaches on both sides prefer to keep the games at a more useful 11-on-11.

Fly in too hard or recklessly on a tackle? Players generally aren’t hurting their teams if the referee takes action. Exact a little retribution against a player with whom there is history? Why not? They are likely to get away with it sans any punitive action.

What is the answer? MLS should be slightly more proactive in issuing suspensions that carry into the season. Or perhaps issue a two-match suspension for upcoming preseason contests.That would get players attention, at least, as they would hate being left behind when teammates were getting ahead on fitness and match sharpness.

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